Monday, 20 March 2017

Of #BeerSaints and "Alternative Facts"...

One is a man who is worshipped and adored by craft
beer drinkers across Ontario. And the other is Great
Lakes' head brewer Mike Lackey. *Double-checks

caption info* Oh, shit, I might have that backwards.
This is what I get for letting Drunk Polkaroo edit me.
In the wee hours of a Saturday morning at the beginning of February, Great Lakes Brewing in Etobicoke invited an elite group of Ontario's beer writers, videographers and bloggers to come on in and, well, help them brew a beer. (I included that last bit in case anyone is uncertain what happens these days at a brewery. They got out of the slave trade industry years ago. Allegedly.)

The Big Brew Day came the weekend before Great Lakes held their kick-ass 30th Anniversary Party at The Antler Room and I heard all about it. That's because my buddy, Robert, better known as Drunk Polkaroo, was among the invitees and was excitedly posting a countdown on Facebook in the days prior. It was totally "kid in a candy shop" time for my man, Polk. There were also numerous pre-brew posts on Instagram, Twitter and for all I know, he may have fired up his old My Space account just for this occasion. I do know he has added "professional brewer" to his LinkedIn account so yeah, the dude was pumped. And rightfully so. What a freakin' buzz.

So, of course, when he and I connected at the GLB 30th Birthday Bash, I had to ask him how it went. On the Incredibly Cool Scale that goes from one to the first Marvel's Avengers movie, where exactly did the day rank for him?
This glass and subsequent beer label for Great Lake's 30th Anniversary
Belgian Quad, created by their graphic designer Fabian Skidmore, was a
bitch to photograph because of the reflective gold label. Sun in the front?
Lost the label in the glare. Sun from behind? Same thing. Finally, I put
it on my barbeque wing and got the sun from behind through bushes. I
call this final photo moderately successful. But the beer? Oh. My. God.
Oh baby, that day was totally Mjolnir (Thor's Hammer) for the Polkamon. Hell, you could throw in Captain America's shield for good measure.

Polk recounted that Great Lake head brewer (sole survivor from Krypton and the lone DC reference here) Mike Lackey handed him a bag of malts to pour into the big-ass vat. After he had done his brewing chore, he asked Mike what was next. "Now you go and drink beer," smiled Lackey. Okay, at that exact point, we now have to throw Iron Man's armour and Hawkeye's bow into the mix.

Now because the brewery was full of writers, they called the beer "Alternative Facts" as a sly nod to the recent press conferences toward our immediate south. And because he took part, Polk landed a few bottles and held a contest for one on social media.
When my man, Polkaroo and his lovely navigator Kat stopped into my
Beer Store on St. Paddy's Day, they did not come empty-handed.  Right
in the middle of their 2,700-km (1,678 miles), 50 craft brewery, seven
day Polkapalooza Tour, they came bearing gifts for this Wexford County,
Ireland descendant. (That's me.) I asked him for ONE beer - a Twin
Pines Double IPA from Sawdust City Brewing. That was it. One beer!
He tacked a zero on the end of that one and brought me 10. Including an
mystery bottle up front that neither of us can ever review. We can't even
say what brewery it's from. Oh and he threw a Beau's glass into the mix.
To win it, you had to determine which statement about Polk was untrue. #1) He had been married twice. #2) He had never broken a bone. And #3) His first review on Untappd was Old Milwaukee. The winning guess would be selected at random by Polk on Instagram Video.

Well, as I sipped my beer, I watched person after person pick the Old Milwaukee answer. So I took matters into my own hands by posting, "I know you have been married twice. I know your first beer on Untappd was Old Milwaukee, just as Twice as Mad Tom Double IPA was your 500th and Motley Cru 2016 was your 1,000th. So that means you have broken a bone." Oddly, after that, every single answer on Facebook was the "broken bone" one.
Okay, as it turns out, an overcast day makes it a
little easier to photograph Fabian Skidmore's
design. This, my friends, is what a winning
bottle of Great Lakes Brewing's Alternative
Facts looks like. It also looks very free to me.

Partially due to my, well, prompting, Polk ended up with 32 correct answers and did a draw one night on Instagram Video. Of course, I had no idea how that works so I missed it and was probably watching funny cat videos on YouTube. (What? I enjoy watching cats fall off furniture. There's nothing wrong with that! That doesn't make me some sort of deviant freak. It's the other stuff I do that makes me that.)

So I was a little surprised when Polk came onto Facebook to tell me I had won. Now because we're pals, I asked if I had actually won or I *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* won. No, he assured me, he had fed the numbers into some video number selector thingy (again, no idea - do not come to me for tech support unless it's about spastic cats) and my number came up. Live and on air, as it were.

Now Polk's generosity is legendary. He calls the practice of beer friends passing back and forth regional craft beers by one name - #BeerSaint. See, it has a hashtag and everything. My name for that esteemed and highly-revered practice is, well, a little more on the crass side - #FreeBeerForDonny. And since I won that bottle of Alternative Facts (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), maybe it's time to start talking about beer. Specifically, Great Lakes beer because, whoa, I have had more than a few new, really good ones from them lately.
Well, hot-snot, Samson, this was a tasty little
offering from Great Lakes. Their Meanwhile
Down In Moxie East-Coast IPA had all the
haziness expected from that style and none of
those floaty bits. Most of us can live with that.

Now just before I begin, a quick word about the popularity of Great Lakes beer from someone I would hashtag #BeerAngel and that would be the lovely Kylie at Rib Eye Jack's Ale House in Burlington. Recently, I wandered in aimlessly (because no one wanders with actual purpose) to my watering hole and the assigned Great Lakes tap was "between kegs", awaiting a new arrival. That, of course, is not ideal. However, there are tons of great beers on tap so it's not devastating. And Kylie pointed out one distinct advantage for the bar. "When we have Great Lakes on tap, nobody drinks anything else!" So for a few days, anyway, some other breweries got some loving. From me, it was Redline Brewing and their excellent Clutch Pale Ale. (Zup, Barrie?? Your Redline homeboys representing some tasty-ass orange and grapefruit 4.8% APA sessionability in the hizzhouse! I drink you as well when Great Lakes is on tap to, you know, mix it up.)

But back to Great Lakes. Let's start with their 30th Anniversary Belgian Quad. Actually, no. That was so goddamn big, let's finish with that, instead. Okay, Alternative Facts it is then. First thing I like about this is that it's just 3.8%. I'm sorry but you need those in your life, especially if you're like me or Polkaroo, constantly trying new beers. They can't all be 12% barrel-aged bastards that crack your skull open and eat your brains. Life needs balance. As do Polk and myself. Falling over is not that much fun for us anymore. Gravity is an unforgiving bitch. As are our bones.
Because I love the art of Garnett Gerry on his
many GLB labels, here's a closer look at his one
for Meanwhile Down In Moxee IPA. The back
label explains that when Mike Lackey visited
Moxee, a town near Yakima Valley, Washington,
for the hops used in this, he discovered this cool
little town that had a post office, a laundromat and
one "terrific Teriyaki restaurant." So you know,
Teriyaki has nothing to do with El Dorado hops.
Okay, this English mild ale was brewed with cocoa nibs. Before you ask, nibs are bits of fermented, dried, roasted and crushed cacao bean. So yeah, there was some nice light bittersweet chocolate and a touch of coffee in there. Those beer writers did a damn fine job... drinking Canuck Pale Ale while Lackey and crew did the actual legwork.

Okay, I damn pumped when I heard Great Lakes was introducing a Vermont-style IPA. That east coast style means hazy, muddy and cruddy. I love it. So when Meanwhile Down In Moxee American IPA made its grand debut at the brewery, I was not far behind. In life, I'm miles behind. In craft beer, oddly I keep up. So how is this 6.4%, 65 IBU (international bitterness units) smokeshow? In honour of the late, great Chuck Berry who passed three days ago, all I can say is... Moxee B. Goode. Tons of orange on the nose (it almost smells like Tang), your tongue is hit by wave after wave of juicy mango. How these guys make so many different and unique IPAs is the little-written-about Eleventh Wonder of the World. And frankly, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is kinda boring, should step aside in place of Great Lakes' Tank 10.

(True Tank 10 Story That Can Now Be Told): Polk admitted to me that when no one was looking, he actually hugged Tank 10.
Great Lakes' Harry Porter and the Complicated Coffee
Order (let's assume that's the person in front of you at
Starbucks) had a little surprise for me on the back end.
They were lucky it was just Polk. They would have needed a fire hose and their five strongest brewers to pry me off of Ontario's most famous beer vat.

Okay, that brings us to the seventh beer in their Harry Porter line - Harry Porter and the Complicated Coffee Order. As expected, I got the usual coffee (actually tons of coffee) and chocolate on both the nose and tongue of this 6.5%, 18 IBU offering. But there was something else in there, confusing me. About halfway through, I was getting some inexplicable heat from it. So I went to their commercial description, only to find they had also used Scotch Bonnet Peppers in the mix. A small amount, I'm guessing, but it's there. And it comes out of hiding about 300-mls (10 ounces) into this 650-ml (22 ounces) offering. It's subtle, it's sneaky and it's doubtful I would have ever noticed it from a sample. That's why it's good to drink all of the beer!!!

And speaking of samples, that's precisely what party-goers at GLB's Big 30th Bash got along with the toast from owner Peter Bulut. A sample of the brewery's soon-to-be-released 30th Anniversary Belgian Quad in a cool glass.
Beauty and the Beasts: GLB head brewer Mike Lackey (top right) did
what no sane man would do. He invited this motley group of beer-writing
thugs to come in and make a beer! Fortunately, brewers are not known
for their sanity and thus Alternative Facts English Mild Ale was born. 
Instantly, Beer Bro Glenn, Polk and myself gave our first impressions. Glenn got some plum, Polk noted the caramel and I said, "I'm getting a white wine barrel?" I was on the right track... but wrong wine as this was aged in pinot noir barrels and that, my friends, is a distinctly red wine. It's also a pretty good indication of how little I know about wine. When I bought a 650-ml bomber for home enjoyment, I noticed something instantly. This 11.3% Quad has so much flavour that it was, as Polk likes to say, "a slow sipper." This was like the Cognac of beers. But that slow sipping lead to another discovery. The warmer it got, the better it got. I quickly took the bottle out of the fridge and let it warm up for Glass #2.
Urban legend has it that one of these coat-hooks
was artist Garnett Gerry's inspiration for GLB's
Octopus Wants To Fight IPA label. True? Who
know for sure? Except for the artist himself...
Like both men said, plum and caramel, as well as red wine grapes (I know that now), a bit of spice, notes of brown sugar and an insane fullness to the body. Frankly, just an unbelievable beer. They have their work cut out for them in 2022 and their 35th Anniversary. This will be tough to top... or even match.

Okay, one final Great Lakes Brewing story. When I popped into the brewery with a cake on February 12, their exact 30th birthday, you may remember from a previous column that owner Peter came out to greet me personally. So as we were all having a slice of the chocolate-caramel cake (the solid food equivalent of a hearty stout), Peter asked me where I had purchased it. Wellll, I bought it while I was doing Sunday morning grocery shopping... at Walmart. Geezuz, all the great little bakeries in Burlington and I brought a frikkin' Walmart cake to a birthday party?? Of course, I had to admit it so I did... as my face instantly dropped and I started studying their tile floor. "No, no, no!" said Peter, sensing my embarrassment, "It's delicious!" I suppose in a brewery where no previous cakes had existed that day, even one from Walmart tasted pretty damn good. And it was after lunch time, after all.

Anyway, Great Lakes did a video of that Beer Writers' collaborative effort and you can see it here on a link I can only call: Beer Bloggers In Paradise! (Watch for Polk!) But guys and dolls, I gotta go. Polk has giving me 10 reasons to get busy. So that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...